Disney Courtroom Saga Staggers On

30 November 2004

When it comes to measuring the passing of time there's slow, slower, slowest - and juridical.

The Disney shareholders versus Disney directors saga, which has enriched legions of lawyers during the seven years it took to reach a public hearing, continues its sixth record-breaking week in a small Delaware courtroom.

Many following the case hope it will eventually transmute into a movie scripted and directed by the great Robert Altman, who will detect many similarities between the Disney-Ovitz saga and his own masterwork, The Player.

On Monday former Walt Disney Company director Reveta F Bowers joined the long procession of witnesses that have spoken their lines with varying degrees of conviction.

Testifying for the defendants, Bowers recalled being told by Disney chairman/ceo Michael Eisner that his friend, protégé and Disney president, the one-time Hollywood talent agent Michael Ovitz, "had not made the transition to the Disney culture or ethos."

Eisner complained to her that the atmosphere in the Disney executive suite back in 1996 was "uncomfortable" and that the appointment of Ovitz wasn't working out.

He also told her that Disney wasn't firing Ovitz for cause and intended to honor the terms of its contract with him. This provided for the dismissal of Ovitz only on grounds gross negligence or malfeasance.

But Disney shareholders see it differently, contending that the former agent was ineffective in his job at Disney and could have been fired for cause in the light of his excessive spending and habitual lying.

Bowers testified that after Ovitz had walked the platinum plank, Sanford M Litvack, Disney's former chief legal officer, told her that there were no grounds to fire Ovitz for cause, an opinion he claimed had been confirmed by outside advice.

As a result, Ovitz walked away from the company cuddling a warm, furry $140 million (€105.37m; £73.89m) severance package.

In tomorrow's stirring episode, Litvack himself is expected to face a grilling by lawyers for the plaintiffs. Fans are already lining-up for what promises to be a forensic version of Godzilla versus King Kong.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff